POTTSBORO — The prayer circle encompassed the entire court, baseline to baseline, but it really stretched across three North Texas counties.

POTTSBORO — The prayer circle encompassed the entire court, baseline to baseline, but it really stretched across three North Texas counties.


A pair of 1A schools had just finished a region quarterfinal game that went down to the wire but the thoughts stretched back to incidents from the weekend that affected both the communities of Muenster and Sam Rayburn.


So there were heavy hearts and tears on both sides of the gymnasium, few of them having to do with Sam Rayburn’s 47-41 victory.


"Tragedy struck both of us," Sam Rayburn head coach David Guadiano said. "We were dealing with our own adversity."


It started on Saturday night for the Lady Rebels, when a member of the senior class was killed in a car accident. The next night five Muenster students — four of them Lady Hornets, two of them starters — were in a serious car accident.


Almost 48 hours later with a third of the roster unavailable, Muenster readied for the tip-off.


"The girls were going to play," first-year Lady Hornets head coach Griffin Fields said. "I left it up to them. We talked about our emotions and playing for the right reasons and when we walked off the floor we wouldn’t have any regrets."


The Lady Hornets (21-7) perhaps played better than a unit dealing with the situation could and was in position to force overtime after cutting the deficit to three with 1:01 remaining before Sam Rayburn made free throws down the stretch.


With three of those players seated behind the bench and two seats left empty for those still hospitalized, Muenster got strength from the trio — who didn’t use those seats for the entire first half — and a nearly packed house that included support from several other schools in the area.


"It’s been extremely emotional in the community," Fields said. "I thought they handled the situation very well."


But Sam Rayburn (22-9) was able to hang on and will face Santo in the region semifinals at 3 p.m. on Friday at Abilene Christian University. It is the second time in three seasons the Lady Rebels made the region tournament.


"We’re fortunate to come out ahead," Guadiano said. "Both crowds into it. These girls have always kept fighting and persevering."


Muenster was trying to return to the final 16 for another season. It is just the second time in the last 12 years the lady Hornets failed to make the region tourney.


"Their names are always etched in there," Guadiano said. "Talk about pride and tradition."


Even before the game the emotions were obvious. The injured Lady Hornets came out a few minutes after their teammates started warming up and received an ovation from both sets of stands. Katie Pagel had changed her number to that of her older sister, Abby, one of the Lady Hornets still hospitalized, and each member of the team had ‘Play for 5’ in red and black marker taped across the top of their right shoes.


"You could tell on their faces," Guadiano said. "To credit them they stuck to their game plan and were right there at the end. We had to respond."


Muenster made just one of its first 12 shots and had four turnovers in the first quarter but was down only 11-3 and didn’t get down by much more when the half-time buzzer sounded. Heather Mason had 13 points of her 24 points at the break to help Sam Rayburn hold a 23-14 advantage.


"The first quarter’s over and we’re down eight and we haven’t hit anything," Fields said. "Then we get to the locker room and we’re only down nine. At some point we were going to make shots."


The Lady Hornets matched their first-half output in the third quarter alone but Sam Rayburn was able to get its lead to double digits. Leading the way was Keely Spence, who made three three-pointers in the final three minutes of the frame — including two sandwiched around back-to-back possessions when Muenster came away with three points and then connected with 18 seconds left in the quarter for a 38-28 advantage. All of Spence’s 11 points came in the second half.


"That’s three or four games now Keely Spence has been huge," Guadiano said. "She’s knocked down some big shots."


With just under six minutes remaining in the game, Mason scored underneath and Sam Rayburn took an 11-point lead. The Lady Rebels followed with a five-minute scoring drought and Muenster fought its way back with help from its defense. The Lady Hornets forced 10 turnovers in the fine eight minutes compared to the 10 Sam Rayburn had through three quarters.


Kristen Reiter scored on the ensuing possession and then three free throws made it a two-possession game with 1:44 left. Sam Rayburn made a pair from the line before Mady Burnett hit a shot and Allie Walterschied, who led Muenster with 16 points off the bench, made a three-pointer from the left wing to make it 44-41.


Courtney Clark, who scored eight points, had justed missed a chance to extend the lead with an off-target attempt on the front end of a one-and-one situation at the free-throw line.


Spence then went to the line with 50 seconds left and connected on both and Kelcie McBroom hit a free throw around a pair of three-point attempts to seal the victory.